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All R's about face !!

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

How’s the R number – the all-important rate of Covid-19 reproduction – round your way? Depends where your way is, and who you ask. Though the peak’s clearly behind us, the specifics conflict. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the Prime Minister’s not leading from the front but reacting from the rear. ‘Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself.’ Boris Johnson wisely avoided using that quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech in 1933 when he launched his own version of the historic American New Deal last week. A global pandemic that’s killed more than half a million people is after all a reason to be afraid. Very afraid. The much better news, though, is the verdict from the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane on Britain’s post-pandemic prospects. ‘The recovery has come somewhat sooner, and has been materially faster, than in the bank’s May scenario — indeed than any other mainstream macroeconomic forecaster.’ In short, we’re looking at a V-shaped recovery. The V-sign signalling victory, not the other way round. Which apparently Churchill really was told meant up your bum. Or words to that effect. A relief, as Bojo’s new deal, a five-billion-pound pot for job-creating infrastructure projects is a pittance next to what Roosevelt shelled out. And most of it isn’t even new money. But post July 4th – Yay! Super-Saturday! Independence day! – which marked both the reopening of the hospitality industry, and, incidentally, the seventy-second birthday of the National Health Service, there are more signs of better times ahead. According to Jefferies, the American investment bank, the UK’s economic activity may be down to less than half its normal level, but it picked up two points in the last week alone. Also, employers are ramping up recruitment drives, with job ads for bar and service staff appearing everywhere. Except for folk working in theatres. All too many of which look set to go to the wall. Then there’s the question of how long the revival elsewhere will last. To which definitive answers are thin on the ground. On the glass half full side, the Office for National Statistics reported a few days ago that the number of deaths registered in England and Wales over one week had fallen below the five-year average for the first time since before lockdown was imposed. On the flipside, councils in the north of England can only pray they won’t be next after the restriction were renewed in Leicester. Public Health England has signalled more infections in Yorkshire, plus there are rumours of a similar problem in Greater Manchester. They’ve also confirmed there’ve been three hundred new cases in London in the last week. That makes the capital, uncomfortably, Leicester’s runner-up. And Boris Johnson is clearly taking the hint. Talking in terms of more local lockdowns if there is a second wave. But, surprisingly perhaps, it seems the rest of us are more resigned to our fate than the government might expect. Polling for Sky News shows more than eight out of ten people would back another shutdown if there’s a second spike. Also almost as many of those asked said they actually would stay at home for a fortnight if asked to by an NHS test and trace official. That level of collective caution may explain the government’s tough line on kids going back to school in September. Parents have not been asked but told to get the young ’uns behind their desks unless a doctor says otherwise. And ministers are prepared to use emergency powers to put any town halls or schools minded towards disobedience on the naughty step. Of course it’d be different if there’s a local health emergency. Or if official thinking suddenly changes. Again. Case in point, the policy of quarantining anyone coming into UK from abroad. Introduced on June 8th, effectively ditched within a month. People will be able to jet out to fifty-nine other countries and fourteen British overseas territories without having lock themselves away on their return, from July 9th. Though the list does include Greece, Bojo’s dear old dad raised a few eyebrows when he popped out to Athens last week. This is hardly a rerun of Cummingsgate, but it would have done if he’d crossed The Pond. With corona infections soaring stateside, America is definitely not on the quarantine free list. That could yet change, as President Trump has insisted that the US is bringing the disease under control. Indeed, to quote his statement in full, it’s ‘going to sort of just disappear’. Er, reassuring? Discuss. He has, however, modified his stance regarding facial coverings. They are now, apparently, a Good Thing. He went so far as to say wearing one made him look like the Lone Ranger. Point of fact, the Western hero concealed the area round his eyes, not his mouth. Could be, as some have disrespectfully suggested, Mr Trump plans to do the same with anti corona masks. Armie Hammer, who played the Yankee lawmaker in a film adaptation a few years back, tweeted another quibble. Arguing his character did at least fight for justice. Unlike The Donald. But those who aren’t a hundred per cent convinced Mr Trump sits at the right hand of god can take heart from his tumbling approval ratings, meaning he could yet get chucked out in the presidential election this November. Those Russians who feel the same about Vladimir Putin won’t get that lucky, as a referendum last week overwhelmingly gave him the green light to keep his job pretty much for life. Needless to say the Kremlin dismisses out of hand any suggestion of vote-rigging and intimidation, still less a constitutional coup. As Mr Trump would say, that’s fake news. There is however, irrefutable news concerning Britain’s relations with the EU. The deadline passed in the middle of last week for an extension to the Brexit period. And with trade talks effectively deadlocked a no-deal deal looms, which is likely to be even more expensive for us than them. On the same day Parliament passed the Immigration Bill, which finally puts an end to freedom of movement between here and continental Europe. Still, at least Remainers can, ahem, socially responsibly, drown their sorrows down the pub. In the Kingsdown area of Bristol there’s always the Colston Arms, named after the slave trader whose statue hit the drink last month. A banner covering the sign reads ‘Ye old Pubby McDrunkface’. Proves two things about the landlord, Paul Frost. One, he agrees black lives matter. Two, he has a sense of humour. And anyone with a sense of fun, and a taste for travel, is now free to discover Amsterdam has more to offer than tulips. Latest reports suggest business has been brisk in the city’s recently reopened red light district, in spite of social distancing rules that rule out handshakes and kissing. Fortunately, there are other ways of amusing oneself in these situations. How does the old song go? Oh yes of course – in out in out shake it all about … Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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